Spiking Sullivan: Positive COVID test rate rising quickly in region’s largest county

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Sullivan County, Tennessee’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate (14-day average) has increased by 65 percent since Oct. 1, reaching 11.8 percent.

Sullivan County’s also seeing largest increase in new cases per 100,000 residents

(WJHL) – The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Sullivan County, Tenn. — using a 14-day average — has shot up by 65 percent since Oct. 1, from 7.12 percent to 11.76 percent.

Those figures come from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) and put Sullivan County 24th-highest among Tennessee’s 95 counties, up from 68th less than two weeks ago. Of the counties with higher percentages, only one (Putnam) has more than 60,000 residents and most have fewer than one-fifth of Sullivan County’s population of 158,344.

The increased positivity rate is coming as more area residents are being tested, which has led to an even more marked spike in Sullivan County’s population-adjusted rate of new cases per day.

The county’s 14-day rolling average of new daily cases per 100,000 population was 8.8 percent on Sept. 20. Today it stands at 24.9 — a 183 percent increase in three weeks.

Simply put, from Sept. 6-20, an average of 8.8 people per day, per 100,000 population, tested positive in the county. From Sept. 29 through today that average was 24.9.

Exceeding red zones and recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers areas to be in the “red zone” for population-weighted new case rates if those rates are above 14.3.

Sullivan County was still below that mark when October began. Like most Northeast Tennessee counties, its new case rate has risen since mid-September — but along with Hawkins County, Sullivan has seen the steepest increases.

Recommendations vary as to testing positivity rates that indicate enough testing is being done and community spread is probably somewhat contained, but 5 percent is a commonly used figure.

Sullivan County’s 7-day positivity rate is even higher than the 14-day rate — it’s 13.3 percent or 25th statewide.

Movement less severe in other area counties

While all five of Northeast Tennessee’s more populous counties have seen increased new case rates and most have seen higher positivity percentages, the increases have been much milder in Washington, Greene, Carter and Hawkins counties.

Their latest positivity percentages, with comparisons to Oct. 1, are:

  • Washington, 8.96 (up 10% from 8.17)
  • Hawkins, 9.64 (up 5% from 9.17)
  • Greene, 8.14 (down 2% from 8.27)
  • Carter, 6.71 (up 18 percent from 5.68)
COVID case rates are increasing much faster in Sullivan and Hawkins counties than the rest of Northeast Tennessee.

In terms of new daily case 14-day averages, Hawkins is the only county to have seen a spike similar to Sullivan’s.

Notable in this regard is that Hawkins County has consistently had one of the five lowest rates of testing in the state. Today’s data show that its seven-day average of tests per 10,000 population is 37th-lowest in the state at 26.7.

On Oct. 1 that rate was 18.5 — fourth-lowest in the state. Sullivan’s seven-day average testing rate Oct. 1 was the state’s 7th-lowest at 20.4. Today it was 26th-lowest at 23.4.

14-day average new daily cases per 100,000 with comparisons to Sept. 20 are:

  • Washington, 23.6 (up 30% from 18.2)
  • Greene, 22.7 (up 22% from 18.6)
  • Hawkins, 20.9 (up 143% from 8.6)
  • Carter, 19.3 (up 16% from 16.7)

The two smallest counties in the region — Johnson and Unicoi — couldn’t be more different in their COVID data.

Johnson County, home to Northeast State Correctional Center, has new case rates that have sometimes ranked among the top 10 in the nation for seven-day averages.

As of Monday its 14-day average new daily cases per 100,000 was 127.

Its 14-day positivity percentage has also been in the state’s top 10 consistently and was 6th at the beginning of the month (18.05) and 5th today (23.54).

Unicoi County has seen its positivity rate and average new case rate each drop recently — and both already stood at low levels.

Its positivity rate was 3.95 percent Oct. 1 and 2.31 percent today. That ranked 90th Oct. 1 and 94th today among 9 counties.

Unicoi’s 14-day average new daily case rate per 100,000 was 12.8 on Sept. 20. By yesterday, it had dropped by more than 50 percent, to 6.0.

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